When Cupcake Brown (yes, that's her real name) was 11 years old, her mom passed away after suffering a seizure.  This tragic event propelled Brown's downward spiral into a life of physical and sexual abuse (often at the hands of foster families), drug addiction, rape, prostitution, gangbanging, homelessness, and more. Today, Brown is an attorney with a major law firm, an author, and a speaker.  The following is an excerpt from her book, "A Piece of Cake: A Memoir," which chronicles her horrific life and amazing transformation from victim to success story.  Here she describes her experience of starting college at 27, right after getting clean from drugs and alcohol.

The first night of class, Ken let me leave work early; actually, he insisted. He said I’d need the extra time to find my class. Boy, was he right—the campus seemed much bigger and more complicated to navigate than before. After asking for directions five times, and going to the wrong class three times, I finally found mine. I walked in and went straight to the back row. I sat in the room, silent, scared, and unsure if I belonged there. I didn’t talk to anyone and hoped no one talked to me. They didn’t. I think my defensive posture and antisocial grimace kept them from doing so.

The teacher, an unassuming white man, walked in, took the roll, and immediately jumped into "instruction" by telling us to open our books to the first chapter. Although I’d had my book for a week, I’d never opened it. I was afraid to. I didn’t know why, or what I was afraid of. I just knew that I was scared. So the first night of class was the first time I’d opened the book. I was stunned at what I saw. The first chapter literally started with "1 + 1."  

One plus one? Twenty-seven years old and I’m starting at one plus one? My embarrassment hit an all-time high. I wanted to run; I wanted to scream; I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I couldn’t because I kept hearing my damn family in my head:

This is a positive. Now we know where to start you.

You can only go up from there.

The best place to start is the beginning!

So I fought the urge to run and stayed put. Though, I’m not going to lie, it was very difficult to do so. As I looked around the room, I couldn’t help but notice that I was surrounded by kids much younger than me—most were straight out of high school. And it seemed as though they had a lot more free time than I did; I had responsibilities they didn’t have, like work, groceries, rent. I started to think that maybe I had too many responsibilities to go to school. Momma Chaney squashed that idea instantly by reminding me that it was only fear that created that notion and pointed out that many people work and go to school. So I continued. And so did the problems.

I had a problem with humility. Out of habit, I automatically sat at the back of the class (cool kids always sat in the back). The problem was that I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, so I always had questions. But I rarely asked them because of the derision I saw in the faces of the other students and the snickers I heard. Obviously, they thought my questions were stupid and the last thing I wanted to be was stupid. When I shared this dilemma with V, she suggested I sit in the very first row.

"That way, you won’t hear the snickers in the back and you won’t be able to see the faces."

Me, "Ms. Cool," in the first row? I’d never, ever, sat in the front of the class, let alone the first row. I tried to think of alternatives, but it was apparent that I had no other choice. So the next class, I found myself sitting in the front, and feeling very, very out of place. Nevertheless, to my surprise, it worked. Since I was in the front, I was able to raise my hand as often as I wanted and ask as many questions as I wanted, all the while oblivious to whatever reaction was taking place behind me.

And, you still "cool"! I teased myself.

From that day forward, I always sat in the first row.

I remember the first time I stayed after class to ask my teacher a question. It took a lot for me to ask for help—the idea of it still filled me with shame and embarrassment—and I was convinced he’d laugh at me. If he did, I gave myself permission to cuss him out. But he didn’t laugh. Instead, he stayed behind for over an hour, answering my questions and helping me understand the concept of long division. So, I took what he taught me and I studied. Though at first, studying didn’t come easy.

I had to learn how to study. The first problem was that I couldn’t sit still. I’d study for a few moments and then all of a sudden have to get up and do something. For example, I hated cleaning. But whenever I was supposed to be studying, I’d get the compulsion to clean—anything—the bathroom, living room, even the sidewalk out in front of my apartment.